Lisbon airport
Lisbon airport Reuters

Beset by soaring unemployment and draconian government spending cuts (in exchange for the government’s $110 billion bailout), weary youths are escaping the economic malaise of Portugal in record numbers.

Portugal News Online reported that emigration spiked by 85 percent in 2011, with people between the ages of 25 and 29 forming the bulk of those departing.

The National Statistics Institute (INE) estimated that almost 44,000 Portuguese (and other foreign citizens) left the country that year, almost double recorded in 2010.

These emigrants primarily moved to other parts of Europe – namely the UK, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands – as well as Portugal’s former colonies, oil-rich Angola and Brazil.

Indeed, the Portuguese already account for the largest foreign-born segment of the Swiss population.

Smaller numbers have voyaged to Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Macau, Austria, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical arm, Portugal’s jobless rate stood at 16.3 percent in November 2012, an all-time high, and the third highest such level in the EU behind only Spain and Greece.

Among people in Portugal under the age of 25, almost 40 percent are unemployed.

Inter Press Service reported that high unemployment is decimating the country’s once vibrant middle class, forcing thousands into food banks and soup kitchens, while driving up suicide rates.

"In Portugal, poverty is becoming part of the scenery," João Pedro da Fonseca, a young unemployed electrician, told IPS.

"This is just the beginning of a long period of poverty, a terrible crisis that I'm not responsible for, caused by the usual powerful men."

Marina Oliveira, an unemployed 26-year-old psychologist, is one of many seeking to emigrate. Living with her parents, she eventually wants to "leave the country to follow my dreams, which sadly have become impossible in my country, where poverty is only going to get worse, as new [austerity] measures are imposed.”

Indeed, the International Monetary Fund has recommended even further spending reductions and public sector job cuts – which would surely accelerate the exodus from Portugal.

This migration reverses waves of immigration Portugal witnessed during the economic boom of the 1990s.

Perhaps Angola, on the southwestern coast of Africa, represents the most unusual destination for Portugal’s newest emigrants.

Jose Cesario, the secretary of state for emigrant communities, told BBC: "There's a very large increase in Portuguese emigration to Angola. We admit that in 2012 between 25,000 and 30,000 Portuguese left for Angola," about 5,000 to 10,000 higher than in the prior year.

This phenomenon – reverse migration from empire-builder to former colony – would not have been conceivable in 1974-1975, when Angola gained independence from Portugal, triggering the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese and Angolans back to Europe.

Now, the ruling elite of Portugal – with ties to long-entrenched autocratic ruler President José Eduardo dos Santos – are buying up pieces of Portugal, including shares of many top companies. On the other side, Portuguese graduates who cannot find work at home are fleeing to the oil-rich African state in droves.

Moreover, the current Prime Minister of Portugal, Pedro Passos Coelho, who spent his childhood in Angola (his father worked as a doctor there), has called for closer political and economic ties between Lisbon and Luanda – separated by 3,500 miles, but only seven hours by plane.